Friday, June 26, 2015

Crow Fair

Montana. Whatever else you do for summer vacation this year, you can have a great time in Montana if you read the stories in a new collection by Thomas McGuane titled after one of them, Crow Fair. I found no clunkers among the seventeen stories in this collection. I restricted myself to just one per day, and had the pleasure of reading the story of the day more than once as a way to prolong the pleasure. McGuane writes with great skill, and any reader who appreciates fine literary fiction should enjoy this collection whether you love Montana or not. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Crow Fair from

God Help the Child

Image. Sometimes we just want a novel to break our hearts. Toni Morrison’s wisdom and fine writing broke my heart as I read her latest novel titled, God Help the Child. Protagonist Bride was not loved as a child by her father and by her light-skinned mother because she was “too dark.” Morrison expresses passion and disappointment that we can be so foolish to let something unimportant like image lead to a denial of love. One of the most memorable phrases from the novel is that “what you do to children matters.” At fewer than two hundred pages, this novel can be read quickly, and should be of interest to many book clubs. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase God Help the Child from

Falling in Love

Tosca. Donna Leon completes her second dozen novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti by returning to Teatro La Fenice, the opera house that was featured in the debut novel of the series many years ago. Soprano Flavia Petrelli returns to sing the lead in Tosca to standing ovations by fans including Guido and his wife, Paola. In this novel titled, Falling in Love, Leon allows Guido to protect Flavia once again. Fans of this series are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this latest installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Falling in Love from


Lies. The debut novel by Rebecca Scherm titled Unbecoming should appeal to those readers who enjoy fiction with deeply developed complex characters. Protagonist and narrator Grace draws readers into her life of thievery and lies which has made her the person she is today. Scherm upends the usual coming of age story by showing a deflection point, a theft, and how that led Grace on a path toward hiding her identity rather than becoming a mature adult. I was delighted with Scherm’s clever prose and adroit character development. Those readers interested in finding a new literary voice should consider picking up this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Unbecoming from

America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System

Reform. My blood pressure soared to some very unhealthy levels as I read Steven Brill’s book titled, America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System. This book is a passionate plea to reform the healthcare system. Brill leaves no target untouched by his passion. Costs are out of control. Special interests have blocked all efforts to enact real reform and cost containment. Readers who can contain both anger and high blood pressure will gain perspective and insight from reading this book. If Brill convinces enough people to press for reform, there might actually be change that will make a difference. Whether you think that can happen or not, if you want to be an informed citizen, read this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase America’s Bitter Pill from


Silence. Lots of Midwesterners don’t get all gushy talking about love. They just do it. George Hodgman’s memoir of life in Paris, Missouri soars with love for his mother, Betty, as he describes her indomitable personality in a book titled, Bettyville. The last thing that George expected to do was leave his cultured Manhattan gay lifestyle and return to Paris to care for his mother. That’s what he did, and she and he were all the better for it. Readers who love memoirs that capture the vibrancy of our human spirit are those most likely to enjoy reading this finely written book. George and Betty maintained a silence about some things that might have been voiced by other people. This silence was a form of love that makes all the sense in the world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bettyville from

The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop

Stories. Having listened to Steve Osborne tell a story on The Moth, I knew that I would select the audiobook version when he published his memoir titled, The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop. Osborne knows how to tell a story, and anyone who has been a member of the NYPD has a wealth of anecdotes that are worth hearing. Osborne takes those regular stories up a notch, thanks to his superior ability to tell a story just right. Any reader who loves New York, or who loves a police officer, will enjoy reading (or listening to) this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Job from

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Road to Character

Virtues. There’s a simple, old-fashioned message at the heart of David Brooks’ book titled, The Road to Character: there’s more to life and who you are than the success you’ve achieved. Brooks talks about the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues, that aspect of ourselves, Adam 1 that is ambitious part of ourselves that wants to conquer the world, while Adam 2 is that part of ourselves that wants to serve others. In our age of self-centeredness, Brooks proposes both a move toward balance, and a greater focus on humility and service to others. Throughout the book he offers the personal stories of individuals who developed strong character and he presents their lives as exemplary. I found this to be a reflective and thoughtful book, well-suited for our time. The pendulum has swung so severely toward what Brooks called the “big me,” that a life of service to others seems like a better road to character. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Road to Character from

And Sometimes I Wonder About You

Desire. Fans of Walter Mosley and his Leonid McGill detective series will be delighted to read the fifth installment titled, And Sometimes I Wonder About You. New readers to the series can easily start here, although the richness of the story can be enhanced for those readers familiar with the earlier novels. Mosley’s prose will please any reader. His characters are well-developed, the plot is always engaging, and the insight into human behavior is wise and deep. Desire permeates this installment. Leonid’s father shows up in his life, a long-held desire now realized. A beautiful woman draws out physical desires and emotional longing. Leonid’s son goes missing, and his wife comes home from the sanitarium. Throughout it all, there’s a case to solve, and the usual interactions with the police. This book provides lots of entertainment to those readers who like crime fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase And Sometimes I Wonder About You from

The Subprimes

Community. Social satire in fiction can often fall flat because of weak characters or barbs that are so sharp that the nuances in life can be lost. One of the best satirical novels I’ve read in a long time is Karl Taro Greenfield’s The Subprimes. In the not-so-distant future, credit scores divide society. Wealth inequality separates the haves from the have nots. Into that setting, Greenfield gives readers a journey, a hero, and an image of the kind of community that can unite instead of divide people. Throughout the novel, Greenfield uses wit to keep the gloom at bay. The gigantic machine used for fracking, for example, is described as fully as any character, and becomes the Goliath of the story. Needless to say, there is a David. The charismatic female hero provides leadership that Greenfield presents with wisdom and insight. Readers who like well-written satire are likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Subprimes from

Double Fudge Brownie Murder

Suitors. I consume Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen novels by listening to them while I am doing something else. The playback speed is always 2x, so they move at a quick pace. I remain undecided whether these novels are camp or just corny. Is this a satire of small town Minnesota life, or is this a realistic presentation of a culture that remains foreign to me? I listened to the latest one, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, and was mildly entertained by all the elements of a predictable formula. There’s murder, baking, a familiar cast of characters, recipes and crime solving. This time out Hannah seems to have more suitors than cookies and I found that hilarious. Readers who like the familiarity of a series and who enjoy humorous G-rated content are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Double Fudge Brownie Murder from

The Fifth Gospel

Pairings. Ian Caldwell tries to juggle many elements in his novel titled, The Fifth Gospel. Set in Vatican City, he pairs the view from inside the small country with the outside world. He pairs the passion and scholarship of two brothers who are priests, one Greek Catholic and one Roman Catholic. One is married, the other not. There’s murder, intrigue, politics, the Shroud of Turin, and a church full of issues and thousand-year relationships. There’s a thread of forgiveness and redemption that seems to fit the setting perfectly. Somehow Caldwell’s juggling of all these elements worked, and I was entertained from beginning to end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fifth Gospel from

Memory Man

Decker. Prolific novelist David Baldacci begins a new crime fiction series as he introduces Amos Decker in a novel titled, Memory Man. Baldacci satisfies readers in this book with three elements critical to this genre: fast-paced action; interesting characters, and descriptive language that helps readers visualize the action. Amos Decker suffered a brain injury playing football and he has the blessing and curse of now being able to remember everything and forget nothing. Fans of Baldacci’s writing and those who like crime fiction are the readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Memory Man from

The Folded Clock

Compelling. How can she keep from writing? As a fine writer, married to another fine writer, the most natural thing for Heidi Julavits to do is to write. Her book titled, The Folded Clock, is structured as a diary, moving erratically across time. The reward for readers is her finely honed sentences, which seem to just flow with ease from one day to another. Each short entry seems so well-crafted that I read several of them more than once to see how she constructed the diary entry. The essays are personal, often funny, sometimes self-deprecating. All are finely written and provide a way to see the beauty in our everyday lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Folded Clock from


Control. I added Mo Yan’s novel, Frog, to my reading queue because I knew he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and I had not read anything by him. I now understand why the Nobel committee recognized and rewarded his writing. The subject of this novel is China’s one child policy, and Yan’s treatment reveals the ways in which this policy has devastating consequences for many people. He approaches the issue during different time periods and concludes with a play written by the protagonist, Tadpole. I found this to be an unusual and disturbing novel, packed with the strong emotions of individuals struggling to live as best they can in a society exerting strong control over their lives. Readers who have not read much fiction from Asia will find this novel helpful in understanding another culture. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Frog from